If a sneakerhead were to make a list of legendary kicks, chances are Air Jordans rank very, very high on the list. Emblazoned with the ‘Jumpman’ silhouette recognized world-round, and having defined sneaker culture from the get-go, it’s not hard to see why they continue to bag top spots.
Air Jordans were first designed for NBA MVP Michael Jordan in 1985, and we’ve come a long way from there. Each new season, every year, AJs made big splashes as the sneakers Jordan played in, until the day he stopped playing pro for good. The Air Jordan 1s were the pair that started it all, and from there Nike never looked back– with every fresh release, the iconic pair ran the gamut of trends, designs and colorways.
The use of AJs was just as across the board. Michael Jordan repped it on the court while street style front runners rocked it on the sidewalks. Urban style and counter-culture today see AJs worn in a multitude of ways, from tongues over hems to some colorful sock action. The AJs also famously made headlines for being banned by the NBA.
The original pair was produced exclusively for Jordan (hence the name) to wear as he slam-dunked away on the court, but were banned for being too colorful in an era when basketball shoes were mandatorily white. The player was slapped with fine upon fine, but Nike paid them all off in light of the more than positive impact this athlete endorsement strategy was having on their sales. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Moving through the gears from Michael Jordan’s cult silhouette and Air cushioning to breathable netting and molded eyestays, the AJs are a well-seasoned recipe for comfortable sports gear, streetwear and quite a few stares.
However, there are a few pairs that made more waves than others, becoming the faces of streetwear, indeed the entirety of Air Jordans’ legacy:
AIR JORDAN 1 ‘BANNED’
In an attempt to bring back the brazenly bold while reminding people of its legacy, the original AJ1s came back in a 2011 version, officially named the ‘Banned’ version. Talk about daring. The sneaker liner references the original ‘Banned’ Ad, as does the distinctive ‘X’ mark on the back. They also continue to feature the iconic Chicago Bull colors– red, white and black– as a nod to MJ’s team at the time of conception.
Why it’s iconic: The retro Air Jordan 1s ‘Banned’ feature the original (though now outmoded) ‘basketball and wings’ logo on the side, with the classic Nike Air branding on the tongue to boot. A field day for purist collectors!
AIR JORDAN 2010
In true-blue varsity colors, the AJ 2010 is a massive throwback to Michael Jordan’s time on the court. Two highlights take this design far and away from its predecessors– transparent TPU windows on either side of each shoe and an MJ quote etched into the base of the midsoles. Not a bad tribute to 25 years of sneaker innovation. On the performance front, the Zoom Air units allowed players to feel the court on their feet without sacrificing impact protection. Once broken in, the lockdown these kicks deliver is said to be beyond compare.
Why it’s iconic: Aside from harking back to the good ol’ days, the 2010 AJs also have a futuristic independent forefoot for natural movement a la superior running shoes.
AIR JORDAN XX8
A conceptual handshake between veteran Jordan designer Tinker Hatfield and product developer Josh Heard, the XX8 kicks were inspired by ‘stealth’. The zippered outer is a sedate textured fabric that, when pulled back, reveals a bright and bold pop of fluorescent color. The boot-high casing houses what is thought to be a surprisingly intuitive sole, and in itself is easily convertible from statement shoes to game-ready kicks in a flash.
Why it’s iconic: Apart from being a creative twist on sneaker design, the zippered outer also made these kicks more versatile– in the words of Heard himself, the high-cut could be unzipped, rolled up or folded all the way down.
AIR JORDAN XX9
Once in a while The Jordan Brand would release a pair of sneakers that would leave their own designs in the dust. The XX9 was one such gem– a record-setter too, being the world’s first- ever woven basketball shoe. Italian tailoring was once again tapped into in the manufacturing of this pair, which is considered by sneakerheads and b-ball fanatics alike as the pioneering lightest AJ ever. With this pair, Nike really stepped up the colorways over the years from the first release– a whopping 20 OG pairs made it to the market, including a tropical teal and pink combination and another with a color graphic of Michael Jordan himself.
Why it’s iconic: Touted by Nike as the ‘world’s best basketball shoe’, the XX9 ticks all the right boxes when it came to explosive basketball performances, with a reconstructed Flight Plate and a complex Web Fit system for molded lockdown on the mid-foot.
AIR JORDAN IV PURE MONEY
It’s in the name– the AJ IV’s 2006 (and later 2017) revamp looks and feels ‘pure money’. The all-white design was ironically what the NBA preferred in the first place, but it looks like Nike decided to bring it in alongside its other all-white behemoths like the Nike AF1. The metallic detailing is no doubt what ties the ‘luxe’ tag on. Both the 2006 and 2017 versions rank high on sneaker wish lists because, as the saying goes, white is a classic.
Why it’s iconic: The white, metallic and silver color three-way is a nod to both retro fits and the general re-emergence of retro streetwear in the past few years, running the gamut from classic sneakers to urban sub-culture.
From 1985 to 2018, the veritable legend of basketball and kicks continued to surprise– small wonder, then, that 2019’s drop is a topic of frenzy already.
Air Jordan and the Jordan Brand remains largely undefeated in the sneaker sphere, energizing their cult following with release after banging release.